When this year’s show producers were announced, the signs were there that this might be a show that bucks tradition. If the opener to the telecast is anything to go by, that is definitely the case.
There was no announcer, no immediate entrance by host Jimmy Kimmel and no over glamorizing. Instead the show opens with Justin Timberlake in the foyer of the Dolby Theatre, who jumps straight into a rousing performance of his Oscar-nominated song Can’t Stop the Feeling.
At once, the crowd in the theatre were brought to their feet. The A-listers who only minutes before were parading the red carpet giving interviews to the press had been reduced to an excitable crowd, the show injected with a party atmosphere more reminiscent of the Globes than a typical Oscar telecast.
It was a hard act to follow, but Timberlake proceeded to introduce compere Jimmy Kimmel to the stage. It was natural, funny and full of life – a breath of fresh air compared to previous years of either over-scripted comedy monologues or over-produced, awkward performances.
“Let’s just get something straight. There’s only one Braveheart in the room, and he’s not gonna unite us either” began Kimmel, before making a brief statement about coming together in the “spirit of healing and coming together”, seguing into a reconciliation with Matt Damon, with whom he has a famous psuedo-feud.
Kimmel’s dialogue is clearly scripted, but delivered with an apparent spontaneity and improvisation that makes it feel like an episode of Saturday Night Live. His jokes were topical but casual, maintaining the light-hearted tone set by Timberlake while addressing issues that many would expect him to. It was a difficult balancing act, but throw in some jokes about how young Damien Chazelle is and how Manchester by the Sea is made by Amazon and you have a monologue which feels at once colloquial and poignant.
Of course there are the obligatory introductions of some nominees, mainly so the telecast can show off their star-studded audience while the host pokes jokes. However the transition from one guest to the next is seamless and a remarkable improvement on recent years.
If this was an audition from Jimmy Kimmel to the rest of the world, he succeeded spectacularly, and no doubt after this opener the job offers will come flooding in. And kudos to the show producers for finally freeing the show of its creative shackles and bringing it firmly into the present day.